The Yale Law Journal

D.C. Circuit Dissent Cites Volume 123 Article on Gun-Control Regulations

Javier Sinha
26 Sep 2017

Wrenn v. District of Columbia, 864 F.3d 650 (D.C. Cir. 2017), involved a challenge to the District of Columbia’s gun-control regulation. The provision “direct[ed] the District’s police chief to promulgate regulations limiting licenses for the concealed carry of handguns . . . to those showing a ‘good reason to fear injury to [their] person or property’ or ‘any other proper reason for carrying a pistol.’” Wrenn, 864 F.3d at 655 (third alteration in original) (quoting D.C. Code § 22-4506(a)-(b)). This provision—called the “good-reason regulation”—defined “good reason to fear injury” and “other proper reason” narrowly. For example, to prove an applicant had a “good reason to fear injury,” that applicant needed to show a “special need for self-protection . . . as supported by evidence of specific threats or previous attacks that demonstrate a special danger to the applicant’s life.” Id. at 655 (quoting D.C. Code § 7-2509.11(1)(A)).

The court, citing District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008), determined that “the [Second] Amendment’s ‘core’ extends to publicly carrying guns” outside the home. Wrenn, 864 F.3d at 657. The District argued that the Amendment does not protect carrying handguns in a densely populated urban area like Washington, D.C., citing the Statute of Northampton, an English law passed in 1328 that banned carrying firearms in crowded areas. The Wrenn court, however, decided to “sidestep the historical debate on how the first Northampton law might have hindered Londoners in the Middle Ages.” Id. at 660. The Supreme Court’s opinion in Heller had made plain that “the mature right captured by the Amendment was not hemmed in by longstanding bans on carrying in densely populated areas.” Id. at 660-61. Thus, since the District’s good-reason regulation infringed on a core Second Amendment right, and, moreover, the good-reason regulation was essentially a total ban on that right, the court applied Heller’s categorical rule and held the regulation unconstitutional.

Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson filed a dissenting opinion. Judge Henderson, analyzing the Supreme Court’s opinion in Heller, 554 U.S. 570, determined “that the ‘core’ Second Amendment right does not extend beyond the home given the history upholding ‘public carry’ regulations.”  Wrenn, 864 F.3d at 669 (Henderson, J., dissenting). In reviewing the history of firearm regulation, Judge Henderson cited Joseph Blocher’s article, Firearm Localism, 123 Yale L.J. 82 (2013). Blocher’s article examines the history of gun-control laws, comparing gun regulations in rural areas against those in cities. Blocher concludes that “American cities have traditionally had much more stringent gun control than rural areas,” id. at 108, and that “Second Amendment doctrine can and should incorporate our long national tradition of locally tailored gun control,” id. at 140. Judge Henderson, taking this history into account, would have applied intermediate scrutiny and upheld the District’s good-reason regulation.